NZ South Island itinerary- please help! :-)

Jun 19th, 2019, 09:27 AM
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NZ South Island itinerary- please help! :-)

Hi all. Im posting as Id love to get your advice on my South Island NZ itinerary - before I go completely mad! It will be our first time visiting. Ive been pouring over different posts on this forum and reading copious blogs and as a result Im finding it impossible to make a decision on what to do. Im hoping some input from you will help.

My husband and I fly into Nelson on Mon 11th Nov (this cant be changed) and then fly out on Sat 23rd from either Christchurch or Queenstown. Ive got my heart set of Abel Tasman (it just looks so lovely, and I think different to the rest of South Island) and Milford Sound seems to be unmissable (although correct me if Im wrong). Ive also concluded through my research (rightly or wrongly!) that we should do the inland drive through Mt Cook. The rest is up for debate. Ive managed to narrow down our options to two possible itineraries. Is one better than the other? Any suggested amends? Please let me know what you think!

In terms of our interests, we enjoy driving (although dont want to be in the car all the time), like the idea of doing lots of hikes/walks, and we also want to do this trip on a tight budget (so no helihikes, bungee jumps etc for us).

Mon 11th fly into Nelson midday, drive to Motueka or similar
Tue 12th Abel Tasman all day, hike and explore
Wed 13th Drive down West Coast, overnight in Punakaiki
Thu 14th Drive to Franz Josef/Fox (although not for glaciers as I understand you cant hike to them any longer?)
Fri 15th Drive to Wanaka via Haast Pass, take our time, short walks/hikes along the way
Sat 16th Wanaka, explore/hike
Sun 17thth Leave Wanaka (perhaps do wine tasting before) and drive to Te Anau
Mon 18th Milford Sound drive, another night in Te Anau
Tue 19th Te Anau to Queenstown, explore area
Wed 20th Leave Queenstown early for Aoraki/Mt Cook
Thu 21st Mt Cook to Akaroa
Fri 22nd Bluff peninsula all day, drive back to Christchurch airport to drop off car by the evening
Sat 23rd Fly out, 6am flight

Mon 11th fly into Nelson midday, drive to Motueka or similar
Tue 12th Abel Tasman all day, hike and explore
Wed 13th Stay in the area, either more of Abel or Wharakiki Beach or hike to Wainui Falls
Thu 14th Drive to Kaikoura, stop for wine tasting on way
Fri 15th Kaikoura to Akaroa, exploring Bluff peninsula on the way
Sat 16th Akaroa to Aoraki/Mt Cook, all day drive, stopping along the way
Sun 17thth Short hikes in area, leave for Wanaka to arrive late afternoon/early evening
Mon 18th Wanaka, explore/hike
Tue 19th - Explore more of Wanaka area, drive to Te Anau
Wed 20th - Milford Sound, another night in Te Anau
Thu 21st - Te Anau to Queenstown
Fri 22nd - Queenstown, explore area
Sat 23rd - Fly out in the afternoon

Thank you!!
bel79 is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 02:00 PM
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Arghh...just lost my very long post!

I shall try again -

Regarding itinerary one - you've got an awful lot crammed into 11 full days. Speaking from experience, I think you'll find it very difficult to incorporate both the north of the SI and the south of the SI into such a short amount of time without spending a whole lot of time in the car.

I also count nine separate accommodation stays - that's a lot of moving about, checking in and out, packing and unpacking and faffing about getting your bearings, which will drastically cut into your time to actually explore the places you've come so far to see.

You've left virtually no time to explore the glaciers, Mount Cook or Queenstown (only a partial day, then a long drive the next) and I just don't see how you're going to fit in those hikes and walks you mention.

Most roads on the SI are one lane in each direction - get behind a caravan or a car full of gawking tourists or encounter some road works and things slow down dramatically - I suspect you'll find it takes you much longer to get from Point A to Point B than you might expect. On the upside, long days will be in your favor.

I just checked the DOC website, and other than one track closure, I see no reference to glacier tracks being closed, so I'm not sure what you mean about not being able to walk to the glaciers. Diamantina lives in NZ and I'm sure she'll know. She'll probably chime in shortly.

So, itinerary 1 is sound enough regarding routing, but it's basically a driving itinerary, not a seeing and doing itinerary.

Itinerary two -

I count seven accommodation stays, better, but still busy. Flying out of QT makes much more sense than trying to make a full circuit and returning to Christchurch as in your first itinerary.

Two full days in the Abel Tasman area is a much better idea.

The drive from the Abel Tasman area to Kaikoura (I'm assuming Motueka area?) will take over four hours, so a long day in the car, not including stops, but doable (as long as you don't get carried away with the wine tasting

Kaikoura to Akaroa will also take close to four hours (and I assume you mean Banks Peninsula, not Bluff).

Akaroa to Mt Cook will take five hours in ideal conditions. Mt Cook to Wanaka will take about 2.5 hours.

I realize you're short on time and that you're trying to squeeze as much as possible into the time you have, but FWIW if there's one thing I've learned in my numerous driving trips around the South Island - less is more.

We're keen hikers/walkers and have learned that two full days (three nights) in a given area is generally ideal. For Abel Tasman we prefer more, but I appreciate that that's not possible for those short on time.

I guess my advice is to prioritize what's most important to you and go from there.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 02:31 PM
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I agree with Melnq8, stay longer at Aoraki Mt. Cook. Or drop it altogether to free up your time for another destination.

The situation with Franz Josef/Fox changes all the time, given weather events. As Melnq8 notes, at the moment the walk to the FJ glacier terminal face is open.
If it's closed, there will be an "alert" on the above page (example below)
Please check the above DOC page after you arrive. You can also check with FJ's tourist information (I-Site/DOC office) when you get there, as they will have the most up-to-date info..
NZ's weather is unpredictable at any time. November can sometimes be stormy and wet. The West Coast is a high rainfall area.

You'll want to check Metservice and the links on this NZ Transport Agency page (especially updates):
Weather events are big news down here, so check the news regularly, if you have any doubts about the weather.
The Otago Daily News does a good job of covering South Island news, including road and track closures, as people have to travel long distances around the island for work (and other reasons).

Last edited by Diamantina; Jun 19th, 2019 at 02:41 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 10:48 PM
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Thank you both, thats very helpful, really appreciate the in-depth replies. Re you feedback, I suspected it might be something along those lines! I knew I was probably cramming in too much, but the pull of wanting to see as much as possible is hard to resist isnt it, especially the first time. I know we might go back at some point, but the reality is, with NZ being so far from the U.K, probably not for a very long time. Anyway, I think youre both absolutely right and I have to give up the West Coast. One thing that Im a bit worried about missing is the Haast Pass drive - I keep reading its stunning.

Do you know if its possible (and worth it) to do a day trip from Wanaka to some of the main sites? We would look to add an extra day in Wanaka for this, possibly taking out the Banks (not Bluff!) Peninsula.

Thank you both again, your replies (to my post and all the others) are a pleasure to read.
bel79 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2019, 05:11 AM
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#2 is the better itinerary. I'd have a look at the Abel Tasman ferry schedules and then decide where to stay. (I did it from Nelson, actually). Since you are going to head east afterwards. it might be worth considering. I'd probably NOT add the second day in AT, but that's just me.

Long drive to Kaikoura, I'd allocate the entire day 3 to get there, with possibly time in the afternoon to do something in Kaikoura. Then day 4 would be part Kaikoura sightseeing, are you going to do the whale watch in Kaikoura? I might do that and then some wine tasting in the Waipara area, and overnight in Christchurch instead of trying to make it to Akaroa. Day 5 would be full day Akaroa and then try to get as far as Geraldine. Day 6 would be the drive into Mt. Cook from Geraldine, overnight Mt. Cook. Day 7 would be Mt. Cook exploration and head to Wanaka or Queenstown. I'd probably just pick one base there and spend the remaining nights, or split into two locations, not three. Not a fan of too many nights in Te Anau (too many sand flies).and the weather is better east of the mountains.

You are probably underestimating drive times, as you will be pulling over to take photos and will get stuck behind slow moving traffic and slowing down for one-lane bridges. I would estimate no more than 70km per hour, (not 100) for all but the stretch leading into Christchurch, and that is Kilometers, not miles. Yo will want to drive during daylight hours also, but they'll be long.

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 20th, 2019 at 05:14 AM.
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Jun 20th, 2019, 05:24 AM
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Do you know if it’s possible (and worth it) to do a ‘day trip’ from Wanaka to some of the main sites? We would look to add an extra day in Wanaka for this, possibly taking out the Banks (not Bluff!) Peninsula.

Assuming you mean sights along the West Coast, we did this very thing one year - we'd based in Wanaka for six nights and made a day trip from Wanaka up to Haast Pass in search of a track we'd missed on previous visits. Although we'd visited the West Coast many times, we felt it was a worthwhile way to spend a day, especially since we had plenty of time to work with.

It's a viable option, and a good compromise for someone like yourself who wants to see a bit of the West Coast, but is short on time.

Here's an excerpt from that particular trip report:

We made the 80 kilometer drive from Wanaka up the West Coast to Haast Pass, where we walked to the top of the Haast Pass Lookout for some nice views (1 hour return). We also walked the Historic Bridle Track to the viewing platform (2.25 miles, one hour return). It was a beautiful sunny day, no sandflies in either place, but rather humid. As we do on every trip up the West Coast, we walked to the Blue Pools, the busiest we’ve ever seen them, and yep, the sandflies were out here big time.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2019, 06:38 AM
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Thank you all, this is really really helpful. Melnq8, thats exactly what I meant re Haast Pass and good to know its possible!

Before we close off this thread I did want to run one more thing past you. It will probably make your eyes roll but please forgive me, I think I just need to do one more check before I accept the obvious. (Its me knowing better, but still fighting that temptation to do and see more &#128522 I know we dont really have time for the West Coast, but I cant help being drawn to it more than Kaikoura. So Im wondering what you might say about below (after youve rolled your eyes!). It would mean a lot of driving and less time for longer hikes BUT the reward would be a couple of longer stays:

Mon 11th arrive Nelson airport midday, drive Motueka or similar for accommodation (3N)
Tue 12th Abel Tasman all day hike and explore
Wed 13th Abel Tasman all day hike and explore
Thu 14th leave early, drive to Franz Josef, long drive but the day is long, we wont be in a rush and will take all day (1N)
Fri 15th Short hike in area in the morning, early afternoon drive to Wanaka via Haast Pass, take the whole rest of the day to drive this (3N)
Sat 16th Wanaka, explore area
Sun 17thth Wanaka, explore area
Mon 18th Drive to Te Anau (2N)
Tue 19th Milford Sound, depart early for boat tour, then drive back to Te Anau with a hike and stops on the way
Wed 20th Te Anau to Mt Cook, long drive, but again take all day to do this with stops on the way (2N)
Thu 21st Mt Cook
Fri 22nd Mt Cook, leave later in the day for Christchurch to drop off car, have dinner, early night
Sat 23rd Fly out 6.25am flight

I know in my heart option 2 is the best one, but it would still be good to hear what you think. Thank you all!
bel79 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2019, 01:59 PM
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Taking into account what you wrote, "but I can’t help being drawn to it [the West Coast] more than Kaikoura".

I think your new itinerary will be less stressful and give you more time to appreciate and explore your destinations and allow you more downtime, too. In the event of bad weather, you'll have more wiggle room as well. However, the drive from Nelson-Tasman region (Motueka or thereabouts) will be too long, and you'll be strained to make stops. Your previous idea of breaking up the drive in Punakaiki was a good one. This is a stunning part of the West Coast (though take insect repellent for sandflies). You'll also want to give yourself sometime to stop in Hokitika or Hokitika Gorge enroute to FJ.

I think you'll still need to make a change, cut a night somewhere, to break up that drive and savor that journey from Motueka (or thereabouts) to FJ.

If you spend the night in Punakaiki to break up this stretch of travel, you can also stop beforehand at Cape Foulwind. It's just a little out of the way, near Westport. Westport is a good place to refill your petrol tank and to shop for groceries (if needed).

I'll just add, many travelers go to Kaikoura to do a water-based activity, such as whale watching or an allbatross cruise. If this had been your intention as well, one night might not have been enough. Kaikoura is also home to large fur seal colonies, however, fur seals can also be seen at Cape Foulwind, at Wharariki Beach (in Golden Bay), possibly from the water in Abel Tasman, and likely Milford Sound.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jun 20th, 2019 at 02:23 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 20th, 2019, 04:15 PM
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I'm not rolling my eyes as violently as you might expect, as I fully support longer stays in fewer places...but that drive from Motueka to Franz Josef is a doosie - 461 km, well over six hours without stops, and you'll definitely want to stop.

The views on a pretty day are tremendous and much of the drive is car sickness-inducing - lots of tight curves. As is most of NZ it's not an area one wants to rush through. I agree with Diamantina, it's a drive that should be split up with an overnight en route.

The West Coast is IMO much more interesting than Kaikoura, and I highly endorse it, but to drive that stretch in one day is not something I'd recommend.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jun 21st, 2019, 12:28 AM
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Thanks both, thats very helpful with some great tips. Melnq8, glad I didnt make your eyes roll too much! ;-) Diamantina, Kaikoura would have been a place to stay for the night, we werent planning on any water based activities.

Okay, I shall have a think and make a decision. If we do go via the West Coast then well definitely add an extra night in Punakaiki, youve completely convinced me (and most likely take one off Mt Cook so we have 1 night there instead of 2).

THANK YOU again! Your help is really and truly appreciated.
bel79 is offline  
Jun 21st, 2019, 05:06 PM
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I don't think you'll regret your gut feeling of going with the West Coast instead of Kaikoura. The West Coast is wilder, greener, sparsely inhabited, and less developed (though there's some mining inland).
Punakaiki offers magnificent, varied day walks and is part of the Paparoa National Park.
At low tide, you might be able to explore the photogenic Motukiekie Beach north of Greymouth.
Motukiekie Beach Walk | NZ Frenzy Guidebook | New Zealand
The wild card is the weather, but the coast along Kaikoura can also be affected by bad weather or rockfalls. See this article from Nov. 2018:
As I wrote before, please mind weather warnings and forecasts while you are here. The situation can change very quickly.
Though not necessarily a sure thing, don't forget about the pesky sandflies. Sandflies don't bite at night (but the mosquitoes might). They're also slow moving, so you can probably outrun them, if there aren't too many.
Sandfly nuisance map:

Greymouth and Hokitika are the largest towns along the West Coast (but not all that large). They offer petrol stations, supermarkets, and other services.

As for missing out on the wineries of Marlborough or North Canterbury, you'll have other chances in the Nelson region and in Central Otago.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jun 21st, 2019 at 05:10 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 21st, 2019, 11:43 PM
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Thank you Diamantina! So helpful.
bel79 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2019, 04:19 PM
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I omitted another reason for choosing the West Coast over the East Coast: the sunsets, which many people prefer over sunrises. You can find sunrise/sunset times on this link:

By the way, the sunrises on the East Coast are also breathtaking.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2019, 04:24 PM
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Sunrises and sunsets over NZ hadnt occurred to me. Any recommendations for sunrises in or around Christchurch and Dunedin?
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2019, 04:16 PM
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Dunedin's very hilly, so you can head to the top of many hills to see the sunrise. As I recall, you'll be staying in the flat area near the Octagon, so you'd have to drive up to a vantage point. Signal Hill would be a good bet, unless it is super cloudy or rainy. But it would take you about 25 minutes to drive there and part of the road is winding. Or you could probably drive straight up Stuart St. (you'll be staying on Lower Stuart St.), but I'm not sure where you could park to look at the view (neighborhoods of Moari Hill & Roslyn). It would take you 10 minutes or less to drive up Stuart St. I've never done this, as I can see the sunrise from my place.

You can also see the sunrise from any number of Dunedin's beaches, though not sure where the sun will rise when you will be here, some times of year it rises over the harbor, other times over the ocean. Maybe Tunnel Beach or John Wilson Drive, above St. Kilda Beach would be a good choice at the time of year, or St. Clair Beach.
Sunrise from Tunnel Beach, Feb. 2017:
Sunrise from St. Clair Beach (not sure what time of year)
Sunrise from Signal Hill:
Sunrise from Mt. Cargill (scroll down to the bottom of this page)
More sunrises from Dunedin:

I've never seen the sunrise from Christchurch. Sorry I can't help. Central Christchurch is super-flat, so maybe drive to Sumner Beach? Perhaps Port Hills?

You can catch some spectacular sunrises inland as well (such as Wanaka or Lake Tekapo), over lakes and from mountain tops.

Last edited by Diamantina; Jun 24th, 2019 at 04:18 PM.
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 01:01 AM
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You can also try New Brighton Beach, Christchurch, for the sunrise.

Top spots for seeing the sunrise along the East Coast of the South Island are Moeraki Boulders and Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins (not sure you'll be going to either).
Diamantina is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 03:17 AM
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Thanks Diamantina. Its unlikely we will make it to the places youve listed, at least before sunrise. Good to know about the options should our plans change though.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jun 26th, 2019, 10:33 AM
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Hi Bel,

being from the UK ourselves, we faced the same dilemma as you, and despite the warnings I'd had from several people here [who were very kind not to say "we told you so" afterwards] we tried to cram in far too much. In fat after our first 2 days we decided to completely rework our trip [thank goodness for free cancellations on which made this very easy] What won't be clear until you get there is that there are few if any double carriage ways and the driving on single carriageway roads can be very tiring. I particularly noticed this portion of your trip which rang alarm bells with me:

Thu 14th – leave early, drive to Franz Josef, long drive but the day is long, we won’t be in a rush and will take all day (1N)
Fri 15th – Short hike in area in the morning, early afternoon drive to Wanaka via Haast Pass, take the whole rest of the day to drive this (3N)

So if I've got it right, you're planning to drive from Abel Tasman to FJ, and then from FJ to Wanaka on consecutive days, which is what we had planned to do too, and is what we abandoned after only 2 days in NZ [when we were still on the NI]. And we were so glad when we got there that we'd decided against it.


And having just scrolled back through I see you decided to add an extra night in Punakaiki. Phew. Great idea. You won't regret it.

A tip for dealing with sandflies that we picked up from our hosts in Wanaka. Roll on deodorant doesn't deter them but acts brilliantly if you do get bitten. I have great places to recommend to stay in Wanaka and FJ if you are interested [though I'm sure that others here have many more ideas as they have much more experience than I have].
annhig is online now  
Jun 26th, 2019, 11:13 PM
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Hello! Thank you for this, very helpful Yes we took away a night in Mt Cook area for additional stop along the West Coast. I would love to hear your recs for accommodation, so please do let me know what they are when you can! Thank you again.
bel79 is offline  
Jun 27th, 2019, 05:56 AM
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bel - would you mind posting the revised itinerary? I'm not sure where you decided to stay on the West Coat - Punakaiki? Greymouth? Franz or Fox? Knowing this would help us give accommodation suggestions.
Melnq8 is offline  

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